How the Death of Patents Unleashed Open Source Innovation for 3D Printing

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Joshua Pearce:

" It is now well known that imposed intellectual property law hurts progress because it ensures we are retarded by 20 year patent monopolies – a time frame which is laughable when compared to our current rate of innovation. Think about how pathetic a 20-year-old computer is compared to the android smartphone in your pocket.

Some in industry and academia may disagree, but it is pretty easy to sway anyone that is not a Luddite and willing to look at the evidence.

The data is very clear that in all the fields I am familiar with – intellectual property as a concept is getting in the way of technical progress, wasting everyone’s time and in the most egregious circumstances actually killing people by restricting their access to known solutions. This is not really news. If you want to innovate the last place you go is the patent literature to read legal gibberish. Companies now discourage engineers from even looking at it for legal reasons.

big ideasWe have known for some time now that IP has been holding technology back. A Nobel prize-winner in economics among others have proven it with data, but there is evidence for it everywhere you look. In nanotechnology, IP is a real tragedy as often publicly-funded university-patented “building block” technologies make it nearly impossible to get anything mildly interesting to the free market.

In solar it is even more frustrating as there is not a single photovoltaic module on the market that has been able to incorporate even a small fraction of the known technical improvements because of IP-related restrictions.

Most clear for readers of 3D Printing Industry is, of course, 3D printing. It has been around quietly for decades, now it is erupting. Why? Because the shackles came off when it was ‘open-sourced’, unleashing a growing tidal wave of innovation. I do not mean to infer proprietary-based 3D printing companies have been sitting on their hands for years. They have made some progress, but it pails in comparison to what is possible when we ALL get to participate in the game. 3D printer costs plummeted from tens of thousands of dollars to a few hundred as the tech improved. Now, there are dozens of 3D printer companies chomping at the bit waiting for patents to run out on absurdly simple ideas like moving one head out of the way for 2-headed printing. This kind of “invention” is blatantly obvious to anyone that has tried to print with two parallel heads as head #1 smears the work of head #2. IP law simply holds us back.

A growing number of companies are getting it – software giant RedHat earns $1B per year on service while allowing their open-source software to be downloaded for free. Open-source hardware companies are sprouting everywhere, they even formed an industrial association (OSHWA), which want to compete on innovation rather than cower behind intellectual monopolies. We are lucky to see so much of it in the 3D printing world. Growing 3D printer companies like Aleph Objects and Type A Machines use it not only for development, but even marketing. In the end the superior method of technological development will win – those that cling to antiquated notions of lording intellectual monopolies over everyone else will be swept away by free and open innovation. Countries that impose draconian IP laws on their citizens run the risk of being run over by those that let their citizens freely innovate. It will be fun to watch it happen." (